It seems we have two options:
1. Slap on 'the mask' and act out the "I'm fine!" response that has been perfected on church patios for centuries. The one who asked skips off to the next person, while the one who is struggling pulls the mask ever tighter, and falls deeper into the depths of despair.
2. Let every single thought, struggle, complaint, trial, and circumstance tumble out of our mouths.
Neither are edifying since one is a lie, and the other is selfish.
But it seems to me there should be a third option. Speak TRUTH when answering, while still maintaining sensitivity and appropriateness. Something like, "Thank you so much for asking about me. To be honest, I am really struggling right now, but I am not ready to discuss the details. I would love for you to pray for me because the Lord has been faithful in the past, and I know He will be faithful again! I just need to walk through this with Him."
Such a simple little question ... how are you? ... but often asked without any intention of listening to the answer, or worse, hoping to receive the automatic "I'm fine" in return. It has become a rote phrase, offered without thinking or even slowing our stride while uttering the words.
Such a powerful little question ... How ARE you? ... and needs to be asked when we are prepared to stop. Listen. Engage. Understand. Investigate. Encourage. Pray.
Because if we are willing to ask this question, and equally willing to answer it, the Lord can use us to fulfill the countless "one another's" He lists in Scripture.
Give preference to.
Rejoice and weep together.
What a precious gift to give to one of our brothers or sisters in Christ ... when they need it most.
What a precious gift to receive from our brothers and sisters in Christ ... just when we need it most.
And all because we are willing to ASK a simple, yet invasive and powerful question - How are you? - with honesty and sincerity, and with the patience and grace to let the one who needs us share in her own way, in her own time. Whether she reveals every detail of her struggle, or simply asks us to pray because she is struggling, we are able to minister to her in a beautiful and unique way ...
because we stopped long enough to ask a question that matters - and were willing to be still,
and listen to the answer.